How Old are the Meals You’re Eating on an Airplane?

On Monday I wrote about an incident of American Airlines serving 16 month old food on a Dallas Fort-Worth – London flight. American didn’t tell me this was a misprint or even a catering mistake. Instead they told me this is acceptable (that it’s within industry norm) but that they’re working with catering vendors to provide meals that were made within 40-60 days.

Everybody else is doing it so why can’t we? sounds like an excuse from a five year old. But I was also curious to find out if it was true.

United Airlines spokesperson Rachael Rivas tells me “United meals are used within 180 days.” Delta tells me they’re “able to serve entrees that have been frozen within a fraction of their regulated shelf life” (Their “meals have a max shelf life of 12 months”).

SATS in Singapore pasteurizes and sterilizes food that can last up to 24 months. This technology has been used by low cost carrier Scoot. (HT: @winglets747)

American isn’t wrong about being within an industry norm. Apparently United will serve meals up to 6 months, Delta 12 months, and American 18 months. There’s nothing premium about 6 or 12 month old frozen food, though.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. > SATS in Singapore pasteurizes and sterilizes food that can last up to 24 months. This technology has been used by low cost carrier Scoot. (HT: @winglets747)

    No wonder the milk is so horrible…

  2. So if the meals are made with a 12 month shelf life, then the meal wasn’t 16 months old, it was 28 months old. 16 months past expiration, but 28 months old.

  3. I was served by AA on JFK-LAX-JFK a meal that was 2 months past the “use by” date – twice in one week

  4. Frank, I think it’s safe to assume the “MANF” date on the package is the manufacture date, not the expiration date.

  5. 364/365 is still a fraction of their 12 month shelf life. Of course to be fair, 3/1 (3x) is also a fraction of their shelf life.

  6. We are a waste society. More food is put in the trash bin today then it was 20 years ago. The shelf life is what the manufacturer say it is so that we have to get rid of what we have and but new all the time. There is no standard use by date established by and independent authority other then the sellers. Anything that is frozen is NOT fresh so get over it. You are on a plane not a Michelin star resturant at 35000 feet so nothing taste good.

  7. My freezer has some food that is well beyond its best before date. “Best before” doesn’t mean “totally gross, truly disgusting after.” It just means it’s not as good now as it would have been then. I would bet most of y’alls freezers are similarly appointed.

    As to nothing tasting good at 35k, there is science to that. Altitude, temperature, humidity (or lack thereof), even the ambient noise all contribute to a reduction in your ability to taste sweet and salty. Umami flavors are unaffected, or even enhanced. Interesting af.

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